No, Project 20Teen does not refer to 20-year-olds or teenagers. It has to do with this decade, the 20Teens. Its mission is to simplify health, or in other words, make healthy lifestyle changes easier, thus reversing the trend and reducing the burden of the “diabesity” epidemic by the end of this decade.
Time’s a wastin’! Target date January 1, 2020 (the end of the “20Teens”)
Can you feel the power?
It is estimated, through multiple well-designed studies, that the grand majority (probably well over 80%) of most chronic diseases can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. That includes most of the top actual causes of death, including heart disease (#1), cancer (#2), stroke (#5), and diabetes (#7). Smoking and obesity, the first and second most common preventable causes of death, contribute significantly. Smoking cessation is difficult but can be accomplished with the help of your primary care physician and other resources. And most would agree that obesity is both preventable and treatable by living healthfully, mainly through nutrition (discussed below) and a healthy level of physical activity. The incidence of diabetes and obesity (together dubbed “diabesity”) are expected to continue to skyrocket over the next few decades, and our mission is to stop and even reverse that trend, sooner than later.
Did you know that the average weight gain in America over the past few decades has been about 1.7 pounds per year? That correlates with an excess (beyond one’s metabolic needs) of only about 17 calories per day! So, if we could reduce our caloric intake or increase our expenditure by 17 calories per day, we would STOP the rise in the rate of obesity in America. A reduction of 34 calories per day would REVERSE the trend at an equal pace, and only 50 calories per day (see 50 or Bust!) would make it fall twice as fast as it has risen! In epidemiological terms, that’s dropping like a proverbial rock! See the Restaurants page to learn about an amazing strategy for making this happen.
Come throw your weight behind us!
As simple as it may sound, helping everyone make the necessary sustainable changes will be an undertaking of gargantuan proportions. That’s where we need your help – it needs to be a nation-wide community and corporate effort (visit How Can I Help?). We have many plans, but our Prime Directive is to try to make it easier to eat out healthily. We aim to drive the market in a positive way by rewarding restaurants that provide healthier options with customers.
How do we define “healthy?”
One major roadblock is that the definition of healthy depends on who you ask and what studies are quoted, no matter the quality of the studies. Let’s start with the government guidelines, which are compiled and published, after much deliberation, by some of the brightest minds in the world. It is also important to note that they must balance their recommendations with livability. They nonetheless receive much criticism by health care professionals and lay people alike, many in both camps complaining that the guidelines do not go far enough. And yet our guess is that the eating habits of most of the critics fall short of these very guidelines.
A briefer summary of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
A quick glance at these guidelines reveals a 70% plant-based diet (the protein section is divided into animal-based and plant-based sources such as legumes and nuts/seeds). However, since the guidelines recommend that half our grains be whole, and that an option for the fruit group is 100% juice (not really healthy), it’s really about a 50% healthily-prepared plant-based diet.
The question is, “Is this enough to accomplish our goals?” Almost everyone agrees that eating more plants would improve our health – after all, they have the greatest nutrient density. Plus, the generally low-caloric density allows one to eat more food – as long as it is prepared (as should be our goal with all food) in a healthy fashion, i.e., without processing the healthy stuff out, frying, or adding oil, sugar, or butter
We at Project 20Teen also recommend a 70% plant-based diet, but our guidelines are a little different:
We also have five categories. Two are the same (fruits and vegetables), two are similar (grains and protein), and the last is different. A few qualifiers: First, it does not matter what kind of plant it is, as long as it is the whole plant and it is prepared healthily. In other words, potatoes are just fine, as long as they are not deep-fried, which is how 50% of all potatoes are consumed in America. And, why not make all your grains whole? The protein section is also divided into plant and animal sources, but we specify that the animal protein have good fats, i.e., fatty seafood.
All other foods fall into the “whatever” section – not meaning that there is no nutritional value in them – just that they are lower in nutrient density and more addicting. Nonetheless, we encourage you to try to prepare those foods as healthily as possible, too.
What this turns out to be is an 80% healthily-prepared plant- and fatty seafood-based diet. It’s something we call The 4:1 Rule. It is our healthy eating strategy, and we believe it provides the magical intersection between what’s both effective and livable.
We invite everyone to slowly work towards following The 4:1 Rule in their personal lives (e.g., start with 1:1 and build up from there). To break addictions, however, you may wish to work from the other direction (but please consult with your doctor before doing so!): Start by cutting out all the “whatever” foods for 2-3 weeks (we call this “The 4:0 Rule”), then slowly adding some “whatever” foods as necessary to make it more livable long-term. This option can launch you quickly down the road to an amazing level of health – but be very careful if you are on medicines for diabetes or high blood pressure, as your levels (and weight) can fall significantly as you flood your body with health-giving, and eliminate health-robbing, foods. Imagine what would happen if restaurants prepared foods in the 4:1 (or 4:0) way!
When experts and others understand the definition and power of The 4:1 Rule, we are hoping that all will support our efforts. Some feel that even The 4:1 Rule is not enough, and recommend avoiding certain plants (we respectfully disagree – as long as it is a healthily-prepared whole plant, then you may eat it to your health!), avoiding animal products altogether (i.e., going vegan), or avoiding both animal products and processed foods (i.e., going “whole” – or following a whole-foods, plant-based diet). That is each person’s prerogative, and the good news is that The 4:1 Rule has great flexibility and can accommodate each of those options.
Indeed, we invite individuals and industry alike to unite behind a single banner – Project 20Teen. Together we will make the 20Teens the “Decade of Redirection,” so that the rise in the obesity epidemic will be hindsight by 2020.